RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. For a lot of Americans, this weekend marks the beginning of summer. But it is no vacation for the presidential campaigns. Polls show President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney locked in a tight race with just over five months to go until Election Day. The two men have been hitting each other hard over jobs, deficit spending and Romney's business background.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Investors walk off with big returns and working folks get stuck holding the bag. Now, that may be the job of somebody who's engaged in corporate buyouts. That's fine. But that's not the job of a president.
MITT ROMNEY: Sadly, President Obama has decided to attack success. It's no wonder so many of his own supporters are calling him to stop this war on job creators. Make no mistake, when I'm president, you won't wake up every day and wonder if the president is on your side.
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MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley joins us now to talk about all things election. Scott, is it me or does this feel like an unusually intense fall campaign, even though it's only the very beginning of summer?
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Well, you're right, Rachel. It has been hard-hitting. Just as soon as it was clear that Mitt Romney was going to be the GOP nominee, the Obama campaign opened up with both barrels. Of course, Romney and his fellow Republicans have been gunning for the president for a long time before that. And both these campaigns and their allies have a ton of money. In their last reports, the Obama and Romney campaigns had raised roughly equal amounts of money. And it is, as you say, a tight race. The country is very closely divided. So, get out your political sunscreen. We're going to be in for a hot contest for the next five months.
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MARTIN: OK. We've been warned. The president, Scott, has been trying to make Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital and his connections to big business; he's trying to make that a negative, and that hasn't been sitting well with some in the president's own party. Any sign that the Obama campaign is backing off this line of attack?
HORSLEY: No, not at all. For the last two weeks, the Obama campaign's been highlighting companies that went bankrupt after Romney's firm, Bain Capital, invested in them, companies where workers lost their jobs, even though Romney and his partners made handsome profits. Mr. Obama is trying to paint Romney as the poster boy for an economy in which a wealthy few get richer and richer and a lot of workers get left behind. A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll out this past week found most people are still not sure what Romney's Bain Capital experience means, but about twice as many viewed it negatively as positively.
MARTIN: But, Scott, the Republicans have been waging their own attacks on President Obama and threatening a showdown over government deficits. This is a line we've heard before. What is their strategy though?
HORSLEY: Yeah. House Speaker John Boehner is threatening to go to the mat again, saying if the president needs an increase in the debt ceiling, he's going to insist it be accompanied by big spending cuts. Romney has also criticized the president for running up the national debt. And, in fact, a story in the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch this past week noted federal spending on Mr. Obama's watch has risen just four-tenths of 1 percent each year, the smallest increase since the 1950s.
MARTIN: OK. So, if most everyone agrees that the economy is really issue number one in this campaign - and both candidates are trying to frame their own economic reality - can you give us a little ground truth on this? Are things getting better?
HORSLEY: Well, unfortunately, a lot of this is really subjective. We just got some new consumer sentiment numbers on Friday, which showed it was the best since the fall of 2007. But, you know, unemployment is still over 8 percent. So, it's a wild card. We're going to get another snapshot this coming Friday when the June jobs numbers come out.
MARTIN: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley. Thanks so much, Scott.
HORSLEY: My pleasure, Rachel.
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